Goin' Down the Road: An Interview with Michael Falzarano
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2009, Volume 16, #3
Written by John Metzger
Mon March 9, 2009, 02:30 AM CDT
Michael Falzarano has such an affable, laid-back personality that in the span of a 30-minute conversation, it immediately is apparent how he so effortlessly is able to fit into the framework of any band. For two decades, Falzarano served as the secret ingredient in Hot Tunaís blues-baked sandwich, and lately, he has been biding his time by exploring the country-rock repertoire of New Riders of the Purple Sage. Although both acts draw from a similar slate of influences, the end results are quite different. Falzaranoís goal, however, is, as he put it, to "stay true to the legacy, the history, and the sound" of those with whom he is working.
Not surprisingly, all of Falzaranoís diversions have left him with very little time to pursue a solo career, though based on the strength of his terrific, new album We Are All One, he might have to find a way to fit it into his hectic schedule. Nevertheless, in spite of the fact that he now has put out two albums since 2006 ó The King James Sessions and We Are All One ó Falzarano remains humble about the prospects of becoming established as a solo artist. "If it happens, that would be great," he stated before adding, "but I have every intention to stay with the New Riders and ride that rail until it unravels, if it should."
"Iíve always had my own bands and done my own thing, but it got overshadowed completely when I started performing with Hot Tuna full-time," Falzarano continued. "Thereís only so much time in a day."
One gets the sense that Falzarano is perfectly happy to follow whatever paths are available to him at any given time and that he prefers to allow nature simply to run its course. "Should something happen [with my solo career], I would do it more," he stated. "But, if something else came along, as has happened more than once or twice in my career, then I might consider doing that. As far as solo projects go, Iím already working on the follow-up to We Are All One, which I hope will be out by the end of this year or the beginning of 2010."
Still, no one should expect Falzarano to adhere to a strict deadline. In conversation, he frequently cites his preference to follow an organic path to writing and recording, and his Muse has served him so well over the years that he also seems content simply to let things go wherever they may. Said Falzarano, "For me, when [an album] comes together organically, then itís time to get it out, and I pull the trigger on it."
"I donít usually have a master plan going," he continued. "Iíve always found throughout my career that the master plan almost never works out. Just look at the New Riders thing. That was nowhere on my radar, whatsoever. Weíve been doing 100 shows a year for the past three years, all over the country and in Canada. We put out a DVD; we put out a live album; and weíre getting ready to release a studio album. I always just sort of let it happen."
Falzarano first began to work on We Are All One in 2004, and despite the fact that the album was almost ready for release two years ago, he was forced to put it on the back burner when the latest incarnation of New Riders of the Purple Sage took flight. Remarkably, the outing is a seamless affair, which is especially surprising when one considers that it was pieced together from a myriad of different sessions that Falzarano held whenever one of his pals or acquaintances happened to be passing through town.
"I didnít start out thinking that I was going to do a Ďspecial guestí album or an Ďand friendsí album," he said. "Whenever friends of mine or people I knew were coming to town, Iíd say, ĎHey, Iím in the middle of working on an album. Are you interested in doing a session?í"
"The reason it sounds [so cohesive] ó even though it took so long to come together ó is because when I do my stuff or I do my thing, itís me. Itís what I sound like," he continued. "Regardless of whether it takes me 10 years or two weeks, it usually winds up sounding pretty much the same. For the most part, I play traditional-sounding roots music, Americana kind of stuff. So, itís not fashionable in the sense that if I donít get this out this year, itís going to be old-hat."
In many ways, We Are All One provides an encapsulation of Falzaranoís career. It includes material that he performed with Hot Tuna as well as songs that were born from his collaborations with guitarist Kerry Kearney. Pedal steel player Buddy Cage appears on a handful of tracks, while organist Melvin Seals lends a gospel-soul flavor to several others. During one of the earliest sessions for We Are All One, Falzarano was joined in the studio by bluegrass fiddler Vassar Clements. Together, they put a fresh spin on Reverend Gary Davisí Candy Man, a song that Falzarano had performed countless times with Hot Tuna.
"Vassar was a gracious gentleman and a monster talent," said Falzarano. "We had a great time in the studio."
"I remember after we had recorded Candy Man," Falzarano reminisced. "Vassar had a big smile on his face and said ĎIíve never played that one before.í I thought it was interesting because I thought heíd known the song and played it many times. If you listen to it, it sounds like he had been playing it his whole life."
Another song from Falzaranoís past that has resurfaced on We Are All One is Last Train Out, his ode to Govít Mule bass player Allen Woody. He originally recorded the tune as a CD single, which he gave away at a memorial benefit that was put together by Warren Haynes. It also turned up on The King James Sessions. "He was a great guy," Falzarano said. "He was a really caring kind of a guy...a lot of fun to hang around with."
"When I got the news that he had passed away," Falzarano continued, "I was in Italy. Thatís why some of the imagery in the song has some of that antiquity in it. The concept was rolling around in my head for years, but the morning after I got the news, I was sitting out on the porch with a guitar. I started strumming it. I had him on my mind, and the whole song just came out."
Itís moments such as this that Falzarano views as among his greatest accomplishments. "I like the songs Iíve written that just come to me, like they were sent down from the Heavens or something," he said. "Last Train Out came to me pretty much as you hear it: structure-wise, chord-wise, melody, lyric."
"The other song, of course, is Itís Just My Way," he continued. "Itís the same thing. I also love that song because Iíve gotten to see the response that it gets from people all over the world. Thereís something universal about it. Itís just rockiní, and people really dig it."
"The process of writing a song is a mystery to me," Falzarano admitted. "Iím not a songwriter who can lock himself into a room and come out two weeks later with an albumís worth of material. You can force the issue and make it happen a little bit more sometimes than others, but for the most part, it just kind of happens when it happens."
Of Further Interest...
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